Monday, July 09, 2007

St. Augustine Zhao Rong: The Soldier Priest Who Could Do No Wrong

St. Augustine Zhao RongI missed writing about the timeless witness of St. Thomas the Apostle on his feast day last week (thanks for the Saint Thomas song, Pristinus) but my [middle] namesake saint of today, St. Augustine Zhao Rong, seems of particular significance now, with Pope Benedict's recent reaching out to the beleaguered Catholic Church in China. Since the introduction of Christianity to China in the 600s, the Church has had a long hard fight to worship in this beautiful but troubled country. And St. Augustine Zhao's story is no exception.

Canonized by John Paul II on Oct. 1, 2000, with a group of 120 martyrs, Augustine was a respected highly-ranked Chinese soldier who was chosen to accompany the saintly John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse of the Paris Foreign Mission Society to his martyrdom in Beijing. Impressed by the tremendous courage of Fr. John as the priest boldly chose death over the denial of his beliefs, Augustine soon realized this man possessed an inner strength that even the greatest Chinese soldier lacked. Acting on his insight, Augustine was baptized, and soon became a diocesan priest—despite the fact he knew such an action was almost a sure sentence to a slow and painful death.

Augustine was not a priest for long, but in the short time he was, he led many youth to the faith. One of those, an 18-year-old boy named Chi Zhuzi, was flayed alive in Zhao Rong's sight shortly before Augustine himself was tortured and killed.

His captors, many of whom knew Augustine from his Army captain days, no doubt hoped that torturing the youth in front of their former mate would lead the priest to renounce the faith for himself and his followers, so they could call the massacre off. Instead, the steadfast Chi, after having had his right arm lopped off by the Army, cried out, "Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you I'm a Christian!" Needless to say, Chi, Augustine, and all the 119 Chinese youth brought there that day in 1815 glorified God with a martyr's death.

Today I hope the youth I teach on the tennis courts will persevere through the 90 degree heat to learn the backhand. May Augustine and Chi inspire them to not give up on their quest for tennis greatness and may the discipline I teach them on this concrete court lead them to pursue concrete instruction about the highest court, that of Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. And may St. Augustine Zhao Rong and companions pray for those still being persecuted for the faith in China today.

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